CELL PHONE (noun) 1. A mobile radiotelephone that uses a network of short-range transmitters located in overlapping cells throughout a region, with a central station making connections to regular telephone lines.

THAT'S A LOT OF TALK.

The number of cell-phone subscribers jumped from 5.2 million in 1990 to 86 million in 1999 to 158 million in 2003, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During the same time, the average length of calls steadily increased, from 2.2 minutes in 1990 to 2.87 minutes today.

LAST BASTION OF QUIET?

The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration are considering lifting their bans on the use of personal electronic devices in the skies. The FCC's public comment period on the topic ended May 27, and technical tests continue to see if cell-phone use could interfere with aircraft navigation or communication systems. If the bans are lifted, it would still be up to individual airlines to decide whether to allow people to use their cell phones. Airlines are considering a range of options, including phone and no-phone sections, and only allowing nonvoice devices (such as a BlackBerry).

TALK ABOUT MULTITASKING.

If you have upgraded to a “smart” phone, you may already know about the huge variety of available applications, for business and otherwise. Online software seller Handango.com, for example, allows you to click on your cell-phone model to see a list of compatible products. If you're toting the Motorola MPx200, you can outfit it with a scheduler, an English-Spanish dictionary, a powerful calculator that includes a currency converter, and plenty of other bells and whistles, including an application that allows you to view PowerPoint. Extracurricular applications range from a portable star chart for budding astronomists to a pocket directory of U.S. golf courses to a 2005 World Almanac. And that's just the beginning.

BECAUSE IT'S DANGEROUS, DUH.

If you rent cars when you travel, know the cell-phone rules of the road. This summer, Chicago will join a small but growing list of states and cities that ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Santa Fe, N.M., also have bans, while Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, and other places are debating the issue. Cellular News, www.cellular-news.com/car_bans, has a complete chart of the regulations in the United States and abroad.

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

Will your cell phone work in Geneva? Singapore? London? Maybe, maybe, and maybe. If you need to stay connected during international meetings, companies such as Hirefone (www.hirefone.com), Action Cellular (www.1800rentphone.com), and Planetfone (www.planetfone) rent cell phones on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis for just about any corner of the globe.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/04statab/infocomm.pdf; Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association Daily News, www.wow-com.com; Handango.com; Dictionary.com

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